An Angus man is spending the festive season in Calais to help with the “forgotten” refugee crisis.
Alex Holmes from Inverkeilor returned to France for the festive season after previously spending time there with colleagues in October.
Mr Holmes said an encounter with a young Palestinian woman seeking asylum in the UK triggered a desire to learn more about the issue of refugees in Europe.
He previously spent time as a human rights monitor in Palestine in 2016 where he helped protect schoolchildren from the threat of attack in occupied Bethlehem.
“Calais is well out of the spotlight,” he said.
“After the closure of the ‘Jungle Camp’ in October 2016, the general understanding was ‘problem solved’.
“Today there are as many as 1,000 refugees in Calais and the surrounding area, including 200 unaccompanied under-18s.
“The refugees live outdoors seeking shelter wherever they can, under trees, under bridges, on disused industrial sites.
“Don’t forget, this is winter: December has seen heavy rain, snow and below freezing temperatures in Calais.
“There is a high risk of hypothermia and an increasing occurrence of trench foot.”
Mr Holmes said the Calais authorities have a policy of “zero-tolerance towards the refugees”.
He said he witnessed “widespread brutality” and blood-soaked clothes on refugees who have been beaten.
“I have seen French police filling trucks with confiscated sleeping bags,” he said.
“I have regularly seen refugees soaked through to the skin.
“I have also witnessed racist groups in Calais physically attacking refugees.
“Of particular concern are the children. In October I spent time with colleagues trying to console an unaccompanied eleven year old Afghan boy.
“Tears were spilling down his cheeks. Eventually, in his grief and desperation, he started banging his head against the wall. None of us spoke Pashtu – we felt helpless.”
Mr Holmes said many of those seeking to reach the UK to claim asylum already have family legally in the UK, but the process can be painfully slow.
He said: “In September I was giving English lessons to a 14-year-old boy whose application for family reunification is currently being considered.
“Despite having a 20-year-old brother with legal status in the UK, this youngster’s application could take as long as one year.”